The Proposed Lake Erie Wind Farm: What You Need to Know

What is the project?
Icebreaker Wind is touting itself as a revolutionary and forward-thinking project that would create the first freshwater wind farm in the country, the first offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes and the second offshore wind farm in the country. It would place a wind farm in Lake Erie, about 8 miles north of Cleveland. The location is considered ideal by the company and some environmental experts, citing the available water space and multiple beaches in the area. Mono Bucket will be used as the “turbine foundation,” which is the part(s) of the turbine that provides stability. The company behind the project claims this foundation will reduce costs and environmental impact. The ultimate goal is to create a “robust” offshore industry by 2030, which in turn will impact the local Cleveland economy and make the area attractive environmentally.

What is LEEDCo?
LEEDCo – the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation – is the non-profit public-private partnership leading the project founded in 2009. “Members” of the group include Ashtabula, Lake, Cuyahoga and Lorain counties, the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Foundation. Fred Olsen Renewables, with offices in the UK, Norway and Sweden, is teaming up with the company as an “equity investor” for the project.

What will it do?
The project will place six wind turbines, each 480 feet tall, into the lake. These windmills will generate approximately 3.45 megawatts of power or enough to power 7,000 homes. The company has teased adding more windmills with time to accomplish their 2030 mark, but not concrete number has been announced. The company claims this wind farm will create 500 jobs in Northeast Ohio and have $168 million economic impact.

A History
Progress on the project started in 2014, when LEEDCo acquired a “submerged lands lease” for the area they intend to build the wind farm. In 2016, the federal Department of Energy granted $40 million for its construction. In 2017, serious work on developing the project began. In that year, the company sent its application to the Ohio Power Siting Board, which deals with energy policies and projects in the state. After that, the Department of Energy started its environmental assessment to check the impact on local animal life and the environmental impact of the project. Then the company submitted an application with the U.S. Army Corps, which was then subject to public comment.

“Bird killers”?
“Conservation” is a somewhat lofty goal and a nebulous idea, especially when animal conservation is equally threatened. In July, the Ohio Power Siting Board recommended the project to the state, but acknowledged the developers needed a plan for birds and bats migrating through the lakes. Birds and bats are often threatened in projects like these. According to the Audubon Society, 140,000 to 328,000 birds are killed yearly by wind turbines. One West Virginia wind farm was even sued for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for its failure to monitor their turbines and prevent deaths for protected bird and bat species. Given the circumstances, some argue LEEDCo needs to be even more careful, as they are introducing the wind farm to a new environment. The company has been ordered to create a monitoring plan that would be in effect all year long save for the “deep winter,” when birds have migrated away from Ohio. The ODNR will be responsible for approval and though the project is far from complete, the wind farm will not be allowed to operate from dusk to dawn from March to January until a monitoring system has been approved.

Where it stands now
Construction for the wind farm is scheduled for the summer of 2020 and is planned to open properly by that November. Thus far, the company passed the environmental impact surveys by the Department of Energy. The studies found that the farm would not have a significant impact on the environment or local wildlife, though some dispute the conclusion. Those tests concluded in October, but there is no telling if more legal challenges will come up against the company.



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